Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Are your strawberries safe?

Strawberry season is one of my favorite times of the year. The berries are huge and delicious and inexpensive to buy. But if you're not choosing to go organic with your berries, here's a few reasons why you may want to reconsider...

Strawberries are near the top of the list of the "Dirty Dozen" (the 12 fruits and veggies that are the most contaminated with pesticides- according to the EWG). The list recommends buying organic 100% of the time for these produce items because the risk of toxic exposure is higher. Washing your fruits and vegetables can only remove up to half of the chemicals used in the growing process.

About a year ago I ran across an article in the L.A. Times on the potential approval of a pesticide to be used on strawberry crops.  Risk assessment scientists within the Department of Pesticide Regulation had settled with the allowance of 0.8 parts per billion as an acceptable exposure level. Edward Loechler, a molecular biologist at Brandeis University in Boston that served on the review panel said, "we all thought that, if anything, it should be lower than that." However, the managers of the department selected 96 ppb and the EPA approved 193 ppb despite the findings of the panel - well above what was considered safe by the scientists.

Methyl iodide is a small, highly reactive chemical that kills a wide range of tiny animals, weeds, and fungi that live in soil. It is sprayed on the soil and is supposed to break down within a few weeks. According to tests done by the EPA, no residual methyl iodide exists on the actual fruit, therefore the only people at risk are the farmers that apply the pesticide and any close neighbors when it is applied.  Even if the chemical did completely disappear after its application, conventionally grown strawberries (those not grown organically) have been found to have the residues of up to 54 pesticides.

Since the article I read last year was written, methyl iodide has been approved and is also used for growing other produce despite it's links with cancer. Here's another great article on the subject from the Huffington Post.

So is saving an extra few dollars worth the exposure?

We buy 3lbs. of strawberries at the farmer's market for $7. The conventional farmers there sell the same amount for $5. Personally, I think the organic berries are still a great deal and my family plans to enjoy them while they're here.

A quick list of a few of the nutrients available through strawberries:
  • folate
  • lots of vitamin C
  • fiber
  • manganese
  • potassium
Happy strawberry hunting,